Darcy Lewis Design

Adventures in "Good Enough" Design

Archive for the month “January, 2017”

A Life Lived Backwards

We are now a month in to the new year and facing a dramatically changing world – both at home and abroad.  This seems like a good time for me to explain my belief in living life backwards.

Far too many of us sort of drift through life doing what is expected of us or what we ‘have’ to do, with little design or intention.  Do you work at a job you hate because you need the money?  Does your current life bring you joy, fulfillment, satisfaction?

I believe in living backwards:  Start with my total goal of what my ideal life looks like, then figure out how to get there.
Many people tell me how ‘lucky’ I am to have such a wonderful husband, they ask me wistfully where I found him and if he has a brother…  And it’s true, he is amazing and I am lucky.  But it’s not an accident or mere luck that my husband is so perfect.  I had stopped dating, resigned to being single rather than settling for the wrong guy.  When I met him, I told him on the first date that I was looking to get married (in general, not necessarily to him), and that if he wasn’t open to the possibility of commitment then he should tell me now.  He was very taken aback, but after a little thought he decided he was open to the possibility.  I spent the first week of dates ‘interviewing’ him to see if he met my criteria and if we had compatible life goals, views, and interests.  I even laid out my expectations for how we communicate and fight, how we handle major life issues, and what kind of marriage and relationship I wanted to have.  I got lucky in that he was compatible, wanted the same things, and was willing to compromise with me.  But if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have kept dating him let alone married him.  Now, this approach seems really cold-blooded to some, but it did ensure that I didn’t waste his time or mine, it ensured that we were on the same page from the very beginning of our relationship, and it did ensure that we have a very solid foundation to our marriage.  The start of a new relationship is the best time to be pragmatic – before you get emotionally invested.

So, are you ready to live your life backwards?

  1. Sit down and think carefully about what your ideal life looks like.  Where do you live? What do you do with your day? What kind of relationships do you have? Be sure to also think about what you enjoy doing and what skills you have that you want to use or skills you want to develop.  The more in detail you go, the more successful the next step will be…
  2. Plot out how to get from here to there:  Do you need further education? How will you make that happen? Do you need to master a certain skill set? Find a class or just start with some books from the library and YouTube! KNOW YOURSELF – make sure your desired goal is what you really want and your plan needs to be realistic for you -if you aren’t academically-inclined, a future that requires a PhD might not be right for you.  I am very impatient and a little lazy, so any life goal or plan that requires very patient work (like being an art restorer) is totally out for me (there is a reason I created the Good Enough philosophy!!)  Be aware that as well as you may know yourself, you may be wrong about things.  Maybe you are generally impatient but for the right thing you have unlimited patience… maybe you could be an art restorer after all! I know lawyers who hate conflict but have been shocked to find they love being a litigator (which is all about direct conflict!) Don’t get so locked in to ‘knowing yourself’ that you don’t try new things.
  3. Finally, make choices that further your goals.  Evaluate opportunities – will this help me towards my goal or take me in a different direction? (Sometimes we find wonderful things in other directions, but not if they are pushing us to stay where we don’t want to be!)  Look for the right opportunities – volunteer for an extra work project that will let you develop skills you need, sign up to teach something you need to practice with, develop an article on your topic and submit it to local publications or the office newsletter.  Find role models – people in your or a similar industry who are doing what you want to do and study how they got there.  Call them and ask for an informational interview and pick their brain about how they got there and what they like and don’t like about their job.
    Be ruthless – you may have to make very difficult choices about work, time, and relationships, and friends and family may feel threatened by your plan – especially if you want something very different than what they have.

Don’t forget to stop periodically, at least once a year, and evaluate where you are, make sure your desired destination hasn’t changed (if it has, redo your plan and continue towards the new goal!), check for trends and changes in your industry that will impact your plans and adjust accordingly.

I made this choice very very early in my life, and have been living pretty close to my ideal life ever since!  Nay-sayers will try to shoot you down with archaic notions of ‘paying your dues’ by doing something you hate before you’ve ‘earned’ the right to enjoy your life.  I believe that life is too short to waste it on something you don’t love.  These goals are not impossible and they aren’t just a luxury for the rich.  This does require discipline and dedication and lots of hard work, but it is possible and achievable!

What are you going to work towards this year?  I have 3 books I’m working on that I need to make serious progress on; I have some art competitions coming up I’m racing to finish pieces for; I’m growing my textile business; I’m starting to study for law school which I will be starting this fall; I have my Fulbright stint abroad coming up, and I have a number of smaller personal and collaborative projects that I’m also trying to juggle.  I’m hoping this year is a very full, successful, productive, joyous, and healthy one for us all!!

Would love to hear from you about your plans and goals for the year!

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Delicious Apple Roses

UPDATED POST!!
I kept seeing these gorgeous, easy, pastries online and decided I must make them!  They are indeed easy, and make a dramatic statement that is sure to impress your guests!  I made several batches (I got carried away and bought too many apples), and did something different with each batch.  In the first batch, I added lots of spices and additions, but you couldn’t really taste it and the second batch – without spices or additions – was even better, so you can add a pinch of cinnamon, a dash of ginger, and a sprinkle of nutmeg… or just let the jam carry the flavor…

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Easy Apple Roses

Makes 12 Roses.

Ingredients:                                           

  • 1 box (2 sheets) of puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 reddish-pink apples (I used Pink Pearl)
  • lemon juice (about 1 lemon’s worth)
  • 4 tablespoons of preserves – your choice of flavor
  • spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, etc. to taste) (optional)
  • powdered sugar for decorating (optional)

Time: about 30 minutes prep time, plus 45-60 minutes baking time.

Directions:
1. Mix the lemon juice with some cool water (about equal amounts) – this will be used to keep your apples from browning as they are cut.  Core the apples and slice them paper thin.  Leave the peel on – that adds the defined colored edge to your roses.  As you slice them you can either dip them in the lemon water and then lay them in a bowl or you can layer them in a bowl first and periodically splash them with the lemon water (I’m lazy, did it that way, they didn’t discolor and it was very quick and easy).

2. Lay a large piece of parchment paper on your counter (I use butter knives to weight it down).  Unwrap the thawed puff pastry, there will be 2 sheets inside the wrap, each sheet is folded in thirds.  Take 1 sheet and place it on a dinner plate – still folded.  Microwave for about 15-20 seconds, just until it’s soft and easy to work with.  Lay it on the parchment paper and unfold it.

3. Put the 4 Tbl of jam in a glass dish and microwave for 15 seconds to soften.  Use a butter knife and spread a little less than half over the pastry.  Don’t worry about getting it EVERYWHERE, just mostly cover the dough.

4. Microwave the bowl of sliced apples on high for about 1-2 minutes to soften them (see note below on the time).  You can also simmer them with water on the stovetop if you prefer for a few minutes (but why?! It’s much more work…).  Whether you microwave or simmer, they should be cooked just enough to bend without breaking – not actually get cooked.  If you bend one and it snaps, cook for another minute then test again.

5. Cut the dough along the two fold lines, then cut the resulting 3 rectangles in half making 6 narrow strips.  Take your bowl of apples and layer the slices along one half of the dough – the rounded outside edge of the apple should hang out over the edge – they will be your rose petals.  Sprinkle with spices if desired.  Lay the apples almost edge to edge -leave just enough space to pinch the dough closed.

6. Preheat the oven to 375º F (190 º C), and prepare a muffin pan – butter and flour it (or use spray) if it’s metal (I’ve tried it without spray… you want spray!), you don’t need to do anything if it’s silicone.  Fold the dough in half, encasing the cut edges of the apple. Pinch the ends shut. Gently roll the strip up – the apples will try to pop out and the jam will ooze out, but persevere!  You will find the trick to a smooth roll lies in being gentle and supporting the apples.  Immediately pop the completed rose into a cup in the muffin tin. Make the others the same way.

7. Bake for 40-60 minutes – until dough is baked all the way through and lightly browning.  You can tent the top with foil for the last 10 minutes if it’s getting over-browned.  Delicious served warm with French Vanilla ice cream or by itself.

NOTES:
I don’t like the Pepperidge Farm brand puff pastry – the dough has an odd aftertaste, but it’s almost impossible to find any other brand.  If you use something else you like better, please let me know!  The next step is to make my own, but did I mention I’m very lazy….??

This seems to bake better (for me at least) on the top shelf rather than on the middle shelf.  The batch made in the middle took FOREVER (over an hour) to bake and then ended up unevenly done.  The top shelf browned very nicely and ended up a little overdone because I left it for too long – expecting it to be closer to the first batch.  In retrospect, 45 minutes would have done it.

A word on flavors: The first batch I made I used strawberry and cassis cream jam (very mild flavor), added lots of cinnamon, a tiny pinch of brown sugar, a dash of ginger, and a fine sprinkle of nutmeg.  I also cut the dough into thirds instead of sixths.  The second batch, I used coarse-cut bitter marmalade, no spices or sugar, and cut the dough in sixths.  You couldn’t really taste the spices in the first batch (think I may need to experiment with this some more), and the second batch was MUCH better and easier – cutting the dough in sixths instead of thirds is vital, though the orange chunks were a little too large.  The third batch was with black raspberry jam – really nice fruity flavor, and I love how the dark juice from the jam tinted the roses! UPDATE: So far, the tasters agree that the orange and the black raspberry are both delicious, but the orange is edging the raspberry – tasters like the sharpness of the orange in contrast to the softer flavors of the pastry and the apple.

I had my husband cut about 6 apples at once, and have made 24 roses so far and easily have enough apple left for another 12 roses (EDIT – I did indeed make 36 roses).  I’ve been keeping the slices in the freezing cold garage in a covered dry bowl.  They are only now (almost a week after cutting) starting to brown slightly, so this has been a great recipe to stagger baking with!

Microwaving the apples!  On my first and second batches, I had a big bowl full of sliced apples, so I nuked them for 1.5-2 minutes and they were perfect.  By the time I was halfway through my third batch, the bowl was nearly empty, so when I put it in for 1.5 minutes they cooked much more than I wanted!  (It’s that I forgot, I’d added a little raw apple that was very fresh and thought it needed the longer cook time, but then the apple that was already soft-ish in the bowl cooked!).  I was very upset and you can see the difference in the before-baking photo – the raw, rosy, slightly-softened apples on the left, the overcooked, limp, yellowy ones on the right.  However, when they came out of the oven, they were identical and perfectly delicious.  Lesson to take away is that this is a pretty forgiving recipe and don’t worry if you screw up a little!

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When you put your roses in the pan you will notice a little column of dough in the center of the rose.  It’s difficult to avoid, but if you have an especially thin and soft piece of apple, lay it on top of the closed dough just before rolling the strip up (see photo below), then you’ll have a curl of apple in the center instead.  Otherwise, you can put a little dab of jam in that center – still attractive and delicious!  Note the difference:  The rose on the left has the apple on top of the dough before curling, the one on the right does not:

Here is the apple on top just prior to rolling:

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First batch: Melted butter to brush them closed, dough cut in thirds instead of sixths, lots of spices….imag6290

This is how you layer your apples in your dough and then fold the dough closed. (This is the first batch, so your dough won’t be that wide and your apples will not be so snugly enclosed, but you get the idea…)apple-slices

My much prettier third batch – much nicer without the abundance of dough.  Note the jam leaked on the front row and burned a little.  This happens sometimes.  This is (one of) the big differences between how I bake and Pinterest (where this never happens and everything looks beautiful and perfectly staged!)….imag6319

My first batch – too much pastry (dough cut in thirds), no pan spray (they didn’t really stick except where the jam burned, but I did find the spray made a difference in getting them out easily!), with strawberry and cassis jam, and without center apple pieces:
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My second batch – a little overdone and with no pan spray, with marmalade, and without center apple pieces:
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My third batch – perfectly done and with pan spray, with black raspberry jam, and with center apple pieces:
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See what I mean that this recipe is practically fool-proof?!  No matter what I did, they looked and tasted great!

Would love to hear from you if you make this or have any advice or feedback!

New Year Fruit Cake

Hope you all had a wonderful winter holiday and new year!

After 6 years, my Armenian husband and I (Jewish) finally negotiated what we want for holidays and family traditions, and in the sudden peace and happiness that descended on me when this issue (which has been tremendously thorny to me) was settled, I was reminded of my own family’s traditional fruit cake made for the winter holidays, it was a rare treat – a dark, flavorful, rum-soaked, rich delight that I adored.

I’ve never understood why fruitcake is so often the butt of jokes, when it can be so delicious!  The origins of the cake hark back to Roman times, though since they thought rotten fish sauce was the ultimate condiment for everything, I’m thrilled the recipe has evolved a bit…

The Smithsonian wrote up a little thing about the history of the fruitcake HERE .

This is a perfect winter holiday recipe – surprisingly simple (I had remembered it as a complicated, laborious, difficult process, but it wasn’t!!!), warming and delicious, and laden with rich candied fruits, nuts, and exotic spices like nutmeg and cinnamon that all symbolize prosperity for the new year!  Despite all the alcohol soaking it, it’s not very boozy and is safe for kids to eat.

Darcy’s Candied Fruitcake – The Original Version:

1 Cup (C.) chopped dates
1 C./8oz candied pineapple OR citron
1 C./8oz candied cherries
1 C. chopped dried apricots
½ C. dried cranberries
1 pound/16 oz pecan pieces

Mix the chopped fruits with 2/3 C. spiced dark rum and 8 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate, and let soak for several hours.

Sift together:
4 C. flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Beat 8 eggs till frothy

Cream 2 sticks of softened butter with ¼ cup white sugar and 1 ¼ cup packed brown sugar

Add the eggs, and:
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Mix the eggs and spices with the creamed butter, and slowly add the flour mixture.  Stir until well-blended (do not over-mix) – batter may have a more ‘foamy’ or spongey texture than other cake batters.  Add the fruit and rum mix and stir until well combined.

Pour into a loaf pan lined with a strip of parchment paper (see photos) – it will rise a bit as it bakes!

Bake until a toothpick or knife poked into the middle comes out cleanly – about 2-3 hours.  Invert onto a rack to cool.

After the cake is cool, slowly pour another 2 cups of the spiced dark rum over the cake, pausing often to let it absorb (I did this as 2 sessions, 1 cup of rum each.  A little would puddle on the plate, but would be rapidly absorbed – I was done and the plate was dry within 30-60 minutes.)

The Quick Version:

I stumbled on this when I was in a big hurry to make this AND desperate to clean out my cupboards (good combination for me that has birthed many delicious recipes!).  Honestly, I now like this version better!

Use candied diced citron, candied cherries, candied pineapple – anything that is candied in those ridiculous neon colors (seriously, bright green cherries?!) goes in – preferably it comes already chopped, but I was so lazy I just tossed the cherries in whole.  It worked!  Because everything else was in nice pieces, and the cake was cut into slices, no one noticed the big cherries and it just made a nice variety of textures.  Add the dried cranberries and anything else dried and fruity that you have laying around (I had about 5 dates, and some trail mix fruit bits, and I didn’t have EXACTLY 16oz of pecans.  I could do either 12oz or 18oz because of the bag size, so I went with 18oz.).  Follow the rest of the recipe as written, except for the sugar: I used ONLY the brown sugar in the original quantity, and just omitted the white sugar entirely.  I think it was sweet enough as it was and had a very nice, moist, flavorful taste that was not chemically or rummy nor was it too heavy or too spicy or too sweet.  The little kids who ate a slice didn’t seem to notice the alcohol so I think the cake is heavy enough to counter any alcohol effects.

A NOTE ON PANS:
When I made this last time, I decided I wanted enough for several holiday parties we had coming up, so I doubled the recipe and poured half into my fancy bundt pan, and half into a large loaf pan (which normally equals one cake), but everything seemed so full and I still had batter left over (HOW?!) so I started pouring what was left into mini loaf pans.  This turned out to be a very good call since I’d forgotten the batter rose while baking, and the oven was nearly flooded!  I filled 6 mini loaf pans besides!!  Of the finished products, I left the mini loafs soaking in about 2 cups of rum for a week, and served the 2 larger cakes immediately.   The large loaf pan cake ended up being the best – it kept its moisture well and was very good.  All the others seemed a little drier and not quite as flavorful and balanced, even immediately on cutting.  Since this was also the easiest size and shape to make… I’m happy!

Note the parchment strips in the mini loaf pans, baked on the mini cakes… makes removal from the pan very easy and mostly very clean (a couple of the minis lost a corner), and the paper easily peels off the cake without damage.

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